Cornell West and clergy protest

On Aug. 10, local clergy and Cornell West joined together, prayed and sang hymns on the steps of the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse before getting arrested by St. Louis city police. 

On August 10, I participated in an act of civil disobedience with St. Louis clergy that involved a march from Christ Church Cathedral downtown to the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse. The purpose of this action was to go forward as a show of unity and solidarity, to pray, sing hymns on the steps of the federal building and demand that the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Missouri move forward on the changes that ensure that all who are sworn to serve and protect will be better equipped to serve people, not systems.

When the federal marshals and St. Louis police threatened the peaceful crowd with chemical agents, some of us decided on the spot to be dragged, tased and/or cuffed as a way of distracting or at least slowing down that type of dispersal tactic, hoping to prevent many (including children) from being harmed.

This action was announced last Friday night at the conclusion of our First Friday Prayer meeting. Obviously, though the possibility of arrest was discussed at the meeting, my arrest could not have been announced. My hope, along with those of everyone who participated, was that we would not be arrested, but engaged. I believe we were heard, in some small way, but I believe we must keep speaking, keep confronting. And I will do it all again if the circumstances are ever the same. I would do it again because I am not just doing this for myself. I was out there for my family, for our family. And I was there for everyone else. I hope that something I do keeps the next generation from being raised to become racists without even knowing it.

Brothers and sisters, this world is broken. Justice in America – and so many places on Earth – is not blind. If she were blind, she would not be blindfolded. She can see very clearly. She can see which ethnic group you belong to, how old or young you are, which side of the tracks you live on.

Justice, without the blindfold, can be manipulated by those who claim to exact it; to make you afraid of black people or Hispanic people, to make you dismiss addicts and ex-cons, to prevent us all from embracing equality or extending grace; to prevent us from affirming that we are all made in God’s image. I think the blindfold was pulled off in this country when, not long ago, white men constructed a phenomenon called Race to make sure that people of color would never be considered equal, based solely on skin tone. Justice needs someone to help her with her blindfold, and we marched that Monday to demand that she retie it.

Brothers and Sisters, I know that many of you are tired of hearing about Ferguson or surrounding discussions. I get so tired of talking about ethnic division, marching about it, meeting about it, sitting on stages in forums about it. But what else can I do when it seems that so many U.S. citizens don’t know, or often forget the history of this country – how our cities evolved into their present state — how many of them became the “hood.” I grew up in North Saint Louis and I saw how it happened here. In the 60s and 70s, a large tract of North Saint Louis (The Ville, Fountain Park and a few other neighborhoods) were racially diverse, with a large percentage of middle-class households. Then, the white folks left the city. Many white churches left, especially white Evangelical churches. It was a westward expansion to Saint Louis County. As a result, we are a hyper segregated city in a country that seems to be happy with “separate and unequal” standards of social justice for the black and brown underclass. No wonder my actions seem like foolishness to so many. It would seem like foolishness to me too if I didn’t know what I know about racism – or if I didn’t believe my foolish acts would help change things in this country.

Mike Higgins is lead pastor of South City Church at 2109 South Spring Ave.

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